The Problem of People Pleasing

by Joseph Franks

Some people are rude. They are harsh, and they care not what anyone thinks about them. Such individuals are quick to speak their mind, and they are abrasive in tone and verbiage. Since they are always the “wisest person in the room” — at least in their own eyes — their every word is Gospel truth, and we should be lucky to be schooled in their presence. When they speak the truth, their attitude is cold and aloof; they worry not about insult and injury. To these hard-nosed individuals who wear not their feelings on their sleeves, being offensive is a positive trait. Like Simon Cowell on American Idol, or Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank, these rude people find it their joyous duty to put people in their place and ultimately save them from “being squashed like the cockroaches they are.”

However, on the far end of the relational spectrum, Mr. Nice Guy can be found. Politics and religion are never discussed by this individual. Never will he be found confronting the unrighteous and lost. He will not even approach and admonish his own friends when it is in their best interest. Why? Because his consuming passion is to avoid any conflict and get along with everyone in the room. His ultimate objective is to keep the peace; he is driven to like and be liked.

But both of these individuals are sinning greatly against God. The rude person seeks to “please himself” by exalting himself and putting others in their place. The sweet individual seeks to “please himself” by avoiding all tension. Both individuals are people pleasers. Both individuals are in error.

To prove this point, consider the straight-forward and charitable admonition of Paul:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.     (Galatians 1:6-10)

Paul is a lover of people. The Jews have a special place in his heart. The Gentiles have a special place on his calendar and travel itinerary. He spends himself seeking to improve all with whom he comes into contact. He shows respect to those in authority. He shows deference to cultures and traditions. Paul is not unnecessarily rude. He is a gentlemanly evangelist. But in this letter of love to his Galatian friends, Paul is forced to kick it up a notch. As an apostolic prophet, he is called by God to safeguard the Gospel, and sometimes this requires him to offend both friend and foe. So,on this issue, Paul has debated orthodox pharisees, ecumenical Judaizers, and dear friends such as Barnabas and Peter. And he is not through; for according to this text, he even stands ready to contradict a heavenly angel who comes preaching a different Gospel. And why does Paul stand so solidly? Why does Paul stand tall when even Peter and Barnabas compromise and sin?

Paul is not a people pleaser!

Paul is not “seeking the approval of man.” To the contrary, Paul is “seeking the approval of God.” Paul is a “servant of Christ.”

Therefore friends, are we “people pleasers” or “servants of Christ,” I suppose at times we can be both, but when push comes to shove, will we forgo pleasing people in order to best serve Christ? Are we committed to think rightly, talk rightly, and do that which is right, regardless of whether or not it pleases us or those around us.

Peer pressure is not merely an adolescent temptation. Everyone struggles in this regard. So, how do we apply this thought?

Perhaps our governmental representatives could take this to heart. We elect these individuals to think rightly, speak rightly, write rightly, and pursue righteousness. And we expect them to do so regardless of popular opinions. Please, please Christ! We beg you to be leaders and not double-minded poll-takers.

As ministers, we should contemplate this truth. Those of us who occupy pulpits should forget the thought of pleasing people and focus only on serving Christ. Yes, this is incredibly difficult, for we are largely kind people. We don’t stay in our profession long when we are curt, harsh, and lacking grace. But we must think less about what our professors, peers, parishioners and guests think of us. We must have single-minded vision as did Stephen when he preached. May our eyes see Jesus only, and may be be very willing to forgo people pleasing in order to please our Master.

The same could be said of elders and biblical counselors. May we have the backbone to look people in the eye and risk friendships by being true friends who charitably speak forth the truth.

Parents, will we err by preferring what we want, or preferring what our children want, over pursuing that which God desires?

Business person, who is the focus of your attention? Will you prefer employer, employee, customer, stock holder, or self over the Soverign God?

Teenager, will you say “yes” to your peer group, or “yes” to the boy telling you he loves you, all while saying “no” to Christ?

Friends, this ought not to be so with those who call themselves followers of Christ. May we be willing to say “no” to self. May we be willing to forgo popularity. May we even be willing to leave father and mother while clinging to our Savior. Paul was one who made it his aim to be a workman, rightly approved of God. Let us follow his model and his teaching. Let us cease being individuals who focus on pleasing ourselves — whether the harsh or happy variety. Instead, let us be people who please the Christ who calls us his own.

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